One of the things we say in Trauma Recovery Yoga (TRY) is #meditationovermedication. Meditation is an important part of the TRY sequence. As students are in the down dog position, a resting pose for the internal organs, they are encouraged to say “I ams” to themselves, basically self-affirmations to encourage a shift in attitude and also to keep the mind distracted from wandering to dark thoughts that might plague the post-trauma individual. Examples might be “I am powerful”, “I am smart”, “I am safe”, “I am okay”, and “I am letting go”.
Physical effects of trauma and PTSD are real. A year and a half post-trauma, I developed excruciating headaches which were intense enough to frighten me. I sought medical attention and was put on barbiturates for the diagnosed “tension headaches”. The other dramatic physical result of trauma was a vibrational sensation in my legs which had manifested within 30 minutes of my husband shooting himself as I sat talking with him. The “vibration” wasn’t a painful sensation; but it was lingering and constant. And as such, it wasn’t something for which I could consult a medical professional. This phenomenon was later explained as I sat in the Trauma Recovery Yoga teacher training workshop. Often when we are about to be given bad news we are told to sit down, or we are already seated when it happens. That negativity actually goes into and settles in the muscles. “The Body Keeps the Score” by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. is excellent reading as he shows “how trauma literally reshapes both body and brain, compromising sufferers’ capacities for pleasure, engagement, self-control, and trust.” The brain’s natural reaction to a sudden traumatic incident is to send out stress hormones, including but not limited to the muscles for the “fight or flight” response. I ran from the room and out of the house and down the street – I didn’t stop running until I was a block away. It wasn’t until about an hour later as I was being questioned by a Metro detective that I realized the physical effect the trauma had inflicted. I was hardly able to walk from one room to the next; it was a cautiously hesitant unnatural gait. In the days following, I was able to walk normally again, but the vibrational sensation remained constant with me for over two years. I endured the discomfort sensing that no medical consultation would give any satisfactory result. It wasn’t until I started experiencing the very painful headaches that I sought medical attention. Shortly after starting the Rx, I decided I wasn’t “okay” after all and researched therapists, settling on a psychologist whose personality and treatment approach appealed to me. Simultaneously, I had discovered Trauma Recovery Yoga through a Facebook posting and started attending the classes weekly. Together with the talk therapy and the Trauma Recovery yoga sequence, I was able to get the tension headaches under control in the next twelve months and discontinue the prescription medication. The vibrational sensation dissipated over time until it was unrecognizable. I dismissed my therapist with thanks and gratitude after one year. I continue to attend TRY classes weekly; occasionally during periods of high stress the vibration in my legs will start up again. I keep it under control with the focusing, centering and grounding techniques learned in the TRY sessions.
Li’Shey Johnson, whom you will meet further in a future blog post, was working at the Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas on October 1, 2017. The things she saw and heard that night traumatized her to her core. She was placed on 18 different medications by her physicians for nightmares, pain, insomnia and depression. All she wanted to do was sleep and forget the horror she had experienced; however, when she did manage to find sleep, she was plagued by nightmares. The medications numbed her and she cared about nothing except finding peace. She eventually found it in the form of Joyce Bosen, founder of Trauma Recovery Yoga, who went to her house and did a modified TRY session with her. Li’Shey had never experienced yoga, but after what she had been through, she felt what could she lose by trying it. Nervous and skeptical, she said the last thing she wanted to do was close her eyes. But Joyce made Li’Shey feel safe and had her focus on just breathing. “I thought, this is it? I can do this…with the breathing and saying I am safe, this is my mat, my space, my house etc….it finally made me relax.” So relaxed, in fact, Li’Shey fell asleep during the session. Li’Shey said she had to “acknowledge what happened, talk about it and breathe through it; BUT it is important to be in a SAFE zone. TRY was a SAFE zone for me.” Within 90 days, Li’Shey was able to start to wean herself off of the medications. Today she takes but four, two for high blood pressure, one for physical pain due to injuries she received that night and one for depression.
I am forever grateful for this day; I shall never forget it. I am NOW breathing in my own space and my own time to help me. I said good bye to the pain killers and I want to live to make a difference in someone else’s life! ~LJ
Yoga and meditation are being used in schools for underserved, at-risk youth. Mindful Movement (TRY for Kids) classes are offered by Trauma Recovery Yoga in partnership with the City of Las Vegas in Title 1 valley schools. Thousands of students and staff benefit from these classes, increasing stress relief and improving behavior and grades. The number of classes will increase as TRY trains additional teachers in the method. Many of the children attending the Title 1 schools are from low income backgrounds whose parents are uneducated. They may come to school hungry because of food insecurity at home, live in unsafe conditions, lack sleep, are alone for long periods while their parents work, witness or experience violence, and the list goes on. The problem is nationwide for children who are challenged by these same environmental issues.
Behavioral and academic problems may sometimes be alleviated or solved by the use of yoga and meditation in the school setting. Brothers Ali and Atman Smith and friend Andres Gonzales returned to their Baltimore neighborhood after earning their college degrees and created Holistic Life Foundation in 2001 to bring yoga and mindfulness to their community. They started with 20 neighborhood boys in an informal after-school program, who at first had a normal “yoga is for girls” reaction to the idea, but eventually saw the benefits of yoga and experienced a transformation within themselves. Eventually they approached the local elementary school principal about the idea and she agreed. Within 3 months of its inception, the program was resulting in better behavior in the children. The children themselves felt empowered by the ability to self-regulate, without being given medication or being yelled at by teachers and staff.
We met Leland Holgate, Sr. in my April 26, 2019 blog post “A Warrior for Inner Peace and Self-Love”. In a follow up conversation with him recently, I learned he has struggled with residual back pain from the accident that rendered him a quadriplegic 20 years ago. He had overcome the quadriplegia in a remarkable way, but the physical pain that lingers is challenging, coupled with the PTSD he brought home from his time in the service. He shared that within the past 5 years he had succumbed to illegal drugs after the prescription drugs failed to sufficiently manage his physical and mental pain; he ended up homeless for a period of time. He brought himself back to balance using meditation and yoga, which helped him reduce the amount of medication he took. Tragedy struck in 2016 when his father committed suicide, and then he himself was diagnosed with Stage 2 Colorectal cancer. That’s a whole lot for one human to bear. It was a year of darkness and degradation in which illegal drugs and alcohol were his solace. He “woke up” one night in 2017 and acquiesced to what he knew all along; yoga and meditation would be the way to his recovery. And with that determination, he started to practice yoga and meditation daily. He ate better, exercised and had a renewed outlook. “When we take time to breathe deeply and focus inward, we signal our mind and body to lower stress levels, raise happy hormones and send the blood to our viscera.” Again, breath and meditation are so important for one’s well being.
In November 2018 he received news that he was in full remission and his blood count levels had normalized. However, his story doesn’t end here. In mid-May 2019, days before we excitedly anticipated Leland teaching Trauma Recovery Yoga at The 705, he was in a horrible head-on collision. His lower spine was bruised and he could only feel 35% of his lower body. His doctors were unsure of a full recovery, and anticipated it might take 8-13 months if it even happened. 2 1/2 months after the accident, with hard work, determination, and meditation several times daily, he has left behind the wheelchair, walker and cane. He has since been able to return to practicing yoga.
“I owe my life to yoga and meditation.” – LH
Visit http://www.traumarecoveryyoga.org for more information on Trauma Recovery Yoga.
Check out dtlvcoop.com for class and workshop schedules.
Downtown Yoga and Wellness Co-op is located at 701 East Bridger Avenue, Suite 150, Las Vegas, NV 89101 inside the Driven NeuroRecovery Center.
Free parking is available Mon.-Fri. 7am-6pm in the underground garage, enter from 8th Street. Additionally, free street parking is available Mon.-Fri. after 6pm and on weekends on Bridger Avenue and 8th Street.